Today’s Thoughtful Thursday is a solo show by the poet Ross Gay. Gay is the author of three poetry collections, most recently “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude,” winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. He is a founding editor, with Karissa Chen and Patrick Rosal, of the online sports magazine Some Call it Ballin’, in addition to being an editor with the chapbook presses Q Avenue and Ledge Mule Press. Ross teaches at Indiana University. He caught our eye with the first poem below, as he described a circumstance known all too well by black folks. As we further explored his work, we found more and more to like. Enjoy.
Within Two Weeks the African American Poet Ross Gay is Mistaken for Both the African American Poet Terrance Hayes and the African American Poet Kyle Dargan, Not One of Whom Looks Anything Like the Others
If you think you know enough to say this poem
is about good hair, I’ll correct you
and tell you it’s about history
which is the blacksmith of our tongues.
Our eyes. Where you see misunderstanding
I see knuckles and teeth for sale
in a storefront window. I see the waterlogged
face of the fourteen-year-old boy.
The bullet’s imperceptible sizzle
toward an unarmed man. And as you ask me to sign the book
that is not mine, your gaze shifting between
me and the author’s photo, whispering,
but that’s not you? I do not
feel sorry for you. No. I think only that when a man
is a concept he will tell you about the smell
of smoke. He will tell you the distance
between heartbreak and rage.
Pulled Over in Short Hills, NJ, 8:00 AM
It’s the shivering. When rage grows
hot as an army of red ants and forces
the mind to quiet the body, the quakes
emerge, sometimes just the knees,
but, at worst, through the hips, chest, neck
until, like a virus, slipping inside the lungs
and pulse, every ounce of strength tapped
to squeeze words from my taut lips,
his eyes scanning my car’s insides, my eyes,
my license, and as I answer the questions
3, 4, 5 times, my jaw tight as a vice,
his hand massaging the gun butt, I
imagine things I don’t want to
and inside beg this to end
before the shiver catches my
hands, and he sees,
and something happens.
Sorrow Is Not My Name
—after Gwendolyn Brooks
No matter the pull toward brink. No
matter the florid, deep sleep awaits.
There is a time for everything. Look,
just this morning a vulture
nodded his red, grizzled head at me,
and I looked at him, admiring
the sickle of his beak.
Then the wind kicked up, and,
after arranging that good suit of feathers
he up and took off.
Just like that. And to boot,
there are, on this planet alone, something like two
million naturally occurring sweet things,
some with names so generous as to kick
the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon,
stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks
at the market. Think of that. The long night,
the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me
on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.
But look; my niece is running through a field
calling my name. My neighbor sings like an angel
and at the end of my block is a basketball court.
I remember. My color’s green. I’m spring.
—for Walter Aikens